Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Pearl of Africa

”Hold on to the rope and lean back. Trust me.”Those words echo through my head as I lower myself over the edge. The first two steps I take before feeling the strength and security of the rope are the most mentally challenging moments of my life. I stepped down onto the bar that would make the transition from no sense of security to total trust in my rope slightly easier. One more step off that bar and I felt a tug. The rope tightened and my heart rate slowed down significantly.

“You’re doing a great job, Lexi. How do you feel,” asked Robert, my safety rope belayer.

I responded, “This is incredible.”

Robert smiled and replied, “Good, kee

p going, and remember to relax and lean back.”

Now the speed at which I descend is in my hands. Robert is just my back up singer. I pulled up 300 feet of rope just a few inches and started to belay myself down the side of this sheer cliff face. After gaining trust in the rope and descending about 50 feet I pulled the rope tight behind me and stopped to think about what I was doing. Because of the lack of momentum, I start to spin clockwise very slowly. Immediately to my right, about 8 feet away, I see the largest waterfall in Africa. It moves at lightning quick speed with power that mimics a stampede of a multitude of wildebeests.

I continued to rotate ever so slowly and when my back is facing the cliff, I can see the world. I quickly glance up to make sure I am not breaking any rules or doing anything wrong. Robert flashes a quick thumbs-up to let me know that I can take my time. Within an instant I realize that I can see several countries from my airborne perch 250 feet off the ground. In my mind, I am looking down from the heavens at the entire world. Oddly shaped lakes, snake-like rivers, competitive, majestic mountains, and vast, treeless expanses; I can see it all.

Before I can comprehend everything I’ve just witnessed, I’m facing the wall again. I decided I should continue on my way down. The rushing sound of the water pushing through countless walls of air acts as a soundtrack to my thoughts as my mind drifts to Uganda’s nickname: The Pearl of Africa.

I was told very early on that Uganda is called The Pearl of Africa because of its nice weather. Originally I believed that the weather was the only thing giving definition to Uganda’s nickname; it is beautiful weather. It does not get warm until after 10 in the morning and the nights are always comfortably cool. Humidity is not overpowering in Uganda, but it’s still moist enough for greenery to be within every range of sight. In the moment I was hanging next to Sipi Falls, looking at the world, I realized there is so much more meaning in that name.

Uganda is a Pearl not only because of its weather, but also because of the rich culture, incredible people, and humble society. The culture is one of love and welcome. Every wear I go I am greeted “You are most welcome”. It’s a sincere statement from loving people who are honestly welcoming me into their homes, businesses,schools, and even their lives. Those same loving people work hard to make just enough to support their families, but they also place a lot of value in taking their time in everything they do. They enjoy everything and never hurry. They place value on time spent building relationships with others and their families. The society is humble and prayerful. Ugandans know they don’t have much, but they offer what they can. I’ve never been turned away or felt unwelcome. Prayers have filled the my last two weeks as all of the people I’ve built relationships with have sent me off with the protection of God surrounding me.
Those most compelling reason for me to come to Africa was to learn about another culture. I’ve done that and learned so much more. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to live or for a more welcoming, caring group of people.

Every characteristic I’ve mentioned is a pearl in any society. The combination of them makes Uganda a pearl to the world.

Sadly, this is the last post from Africa. One more post will follow after I get my feet back on US soil.
Over and out.

Picture 1: Sipi Falls
Picture 2: Sunset from the top of the mountain
Picture 3: Rachel Leavitt
Picture 4: LtoR Mary, Rishida, me, Victoria, and Lucy. Some of the Young Women from the Seeta Branch.

Monday, July 12, 2010

What I've Learned from the People of Uganda

I feel like an appropriate “last week” blog post would be a discussion of what I’ve learned this summer. I’ve been taught so much from the many people I’ve come in contact with this summer and they deserve some recognition.

Freddie – My man Freddie is the greatest boda boda driver on the face of the earth. He’s no ordinary boda boda driver though. His honesty and devotion sets him apart from most of the people I’ve come in contact with during my short 19 years of life. Freddie has been the best friend I could ask for. He’s always willing to help, translate, and direct us where we need to go, and with that he never asks for more than he deserves. In fact, I’m pretty sure he always asks for less than what he deserves. Freddie is also a very devoted man. He sets his dear wife, Peace, on the highest pedestal he can find and is so proud of his family and the life he’s made for them. He taught me how important it is to be dedicated, devoted, and honest in all of my dealings with my fellow man. If Freddie wasn’t around, I would not have been able to accomplish anything this summer.

Edith – If you want excellent, homemade, Ugandan meals, Edith is the gal for you. If you want a lively, fun, loving young woman as a friend, Edith surpasses all descriptions and expectations. She is a gentle woman who simply loves to be around people. Whenever I need to talk to someone, Edith is always there. She is also an exceptionally honest person who has given me a real glimpse into how Uganda really works. Edith has taught me to always smile for pictures because I look prettier that way. She’s also taught me the meaning of patience and diligence as I’ve helped her prepare meals over charcoal stoves for 3 hours. I’m going to miss her dearly.

David – Best guard ever. David is a kind and caring man who is very devoted to our team here in Mukono. He is always concerned about how we are doing and if we are safe. But, my favorite thing about David is his personality. He’s very funny and a practical joker. Between lurking in the shadows to scare us and sitting around the fire telling stories, David has taught me how to enjoy life and to love everyone I meet.

Alex – Alex is a primary six student at Crane Preparatory School which is around the corner from our house. I knew we were destined to be friends because we have the same name (or at least the entire student population at Crane is under the impression that my name is also Alex). He is one of the sharpest ten year olds I’ve ever met. Children in Uganda don’t start learning English until primary four (4th grade) so when I first had a conversation with Alex, I was astonished at how articulate he is. He’s more eloquent than most fourth graders I’ve met in the United States. Within a few hours of meeting Alex it was easy to recognize that he is a leader, but sometimes he can be the trouble maker. For whatever reason, he is not mischievious at all with us. He always wants to help me and has acted as a translator more times than I can count. Everyone has different talents that can benefit every person that surrounds them. Without my bright, intriguing friend Alex, Crane Preperatory School would have been a disaster for the HELP International team. Because of Alex I have decided that I will always strive to assist others with whatever talents I have to offer.

Brian - Favorite person in all of Uganda. If I have a crush on anyone, it’s Brian. He is absolutely fantastic. Brian is a secondary school student who is at the level of a high school junior, but he’s 20 years old. Don’t let his age throw you off. He, like Alex, is incredibly sharp and really on top of things. He’s a little behind finishing secondary school because it’s so expensive, but he desperately wants to make a better life for himself and his future family. Brian is a talented artist, and a service-driven young man. I admire his passion for helping others, but more than that, I admire his positive attitude that penetrates everything he does. Whenever I am at his school (Mukono Town Academy), he never fails to make me smile. Every once in a while I’ll glance in his direction to see what he’s up to, and several times I’ve caught him dancing for a split second before getting back to work. There’s never any music on, but he dances any way. His smile is infectious and his optimistic attitude is enough to make anyone believe they can fly. Brian taught me how to lift others up through my own gifts and attitude. Helping others feel true happiness within their hearts is more fulfilling than anything else I’ve done this summer.

Diana-This faithful young woman is an inspiration to everyone she meets. Diana hasn’t been baptized as a member of my church, but tries her hardest to come to church every Sunday. The one problem is that she lives with her abusive uncle who beats her if he finds her at church. But, somehow she always makes an appearance, even if it’s at the very end. The most amazing part is how happy she is! If I was her, I’d be pretty miserable because I’d always be wondering when I would be beat next or how badly he would hurt me. Diana isn’t like that at all. She never worries about it; well, maybe she does, but she certainly doesn’t show it. She just loves to be at church and loves God with all of her heart. Diana has taught me how to be faithful and to fight for what I believe in no matter what the consequences.

I wish I had pictures of all of these people to show you, but I don’t right now. By the end of the week I will have pictures, and I will update this post so you all can put faces with names and descriptions of some truly incredible people.

Over and Out.


PS. I'm safe and completely out of the way of Kampala where everything happened on Sunday.

Monday, July 5, 2010


Two and a half weeks until I have to adjust to a totally foreign world. Uganda has become an integral part of me in the short 2 months I’ve been here. I will think of myself as part-Ugandan forevermore. After living in this other world, there is no way I will ever turn my back on Uganda. It would be like turning my back on an old friend who has shared every secret with me.

Last week, I spent 4 out 5 days on the back of a boda boda with a kind, gentle man named Freddie. I was out for 5-6 hours at a time in the beautiful Ugandan countryside looking for the neediest schools I could find. Because we were so far apart from urban communities, I often had long stretches of time to think as we drove between each school. Freddie expertly maneuvered the boda boda between potholes and ditches as we wound our way through the rolling hills of the Ugandan countryside. As we would climb the steep paths leading to the top of a hill, I felt as if I was on a rickety, wooden rollercoaster; at the top of my jungle coaster, I had a few fleeting seconds to take in the view before, suddenly, we would start flying down a hill feeling the invisible, but strong, pull of gravity. The first time it happened, I was so surprised I almost missed it. We rounded the top of the hill and all of a sudden there was a break in the bushes that gave way to a clear, endless view of Uganda. But, as quickly as the bushes broke, they sealed up again acting as black curtain between me and the endless view. The next time we started to climb up the mountain, I was ready for that wisp of a moment where I would literally be on top of the world. Slowly but surely we approached the top. Then it happened. Before I could blink the curtains closed on my picturesque view through a window to a world, but not before I committed every minute detail to memory.

I thought for sure I could see the entire world from my perch on a tasseled, faux snake skin motorcycle seat. It was impossible to see where the vast, green horizon stopped and the blue sky spotted with clouds comparable to marshmallows started. City smog did not distort my view in the slightest. The view from on top of Old Rag in Virginia can’t even compare to the sight I beheld today in Uganda. Next to the grandeur of this beautiful country, the Birds of Paradise created an impossibly brilliant frame of reds, yellows, oranges, and greens along the side of the road. Each intricate flower barely snuck into the window through which I viewed the world, but they weren’t so intrusive that they took away from something so breathtaking and so pure as a simple glimpse at the green hills that were before me. Within those few short seconds, my view was broken suddenly by a deep pothole that scrambled my brains like an egg beater. This momentary distraction allowed to me again take in the incredible sight that lay as far as I could see. This time, I noticed the beautiful, orange monarch butterfly as it flew through my window into the world. Everything else was a blur in my mind, except for that single butterfly. She was a simple manifestation that God himself exists and knows how to bring a simple wonder and beauty into an unsuspecting universe. She graced this picture perfect moment for an instant before she disappeared as quickly as she came. How could something so small, and seemingly insignificant, be the exact detail needed to make my once almost perfect painting complete?

I don’t know if my attempt at a description of those few short moments can even do the actuality of what I witnessed justice. This kind of beauty defies all description and imagination. A few precious moments in heaven might be a good comparison to how I felt, but even that does not seem satisfactory. I really was on top of the world for ten endless seconds. I noticed everything, smelled countless different scents, and witnessed innumerable miracles of Mother Nature’s doing. I would be denying the existence of a Greater Being if I ever forgot this moment.

Over and Out.

Picture 1: the team at the 4th of July party
Picture 2: me. photo creds - scott